Media as Attention Directors

In an article about how important the Bubble Economy has become for  US Industry, Eric Janszen argues that the Media has become at best bystanders and more often cheerleaders for “the next big thing”. He notes that Media had failed to signal the problems with the last two economic bubbles – the Internet Boom ending in 2000 and the more recent Housing Bubble. He cites the fact that cautionary reports let alone nay-sayers in the Media and Press were few and far between.

And watching the Media pretty closely for the run up to the election, I  would have to agree. There has been a great deal of lemming-like group-think in the coverage of economic bubble,  energy crisis, and even the US Presidential  election. In the latter case,   the news  punditry has coalesced around annointed candidates only to find the primary voters going elsewhere. As well  background reports and issue tracking are lacking not just for the candidates but also for serious problems like global warming and the environmental predicament the US and the World is getting itself into. Ditto for Change Management – the rate of political and economic change is coming so fast and with economic slack  plus the other social buffers in our society and its processes  declining rapidly, the ability to cope let alone  respond effectively is being severly challenged. These fundamental issues are barely discussed in depth, especially in the TV, radio side of the  Media- but even the major magazines and newspapers have tended to do  one time specials and not weave the narrative and news into other trends and breaking news.

For example, a friend recently reported to me that China is becoming an economic super-power. And that the surplus of 850 million peasants who live on wages of $10-30/ month act as tremendous pressure within the country. But they also guarantee that manufacturing in China will have a labor cost advantage for the next  15-25 years.  What did I think of that ? Instead I asked what was she reading. “Reading ??? – I saw this on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.” Go figure – a comedy show picking up  the analysis and presenting basic underlying trends that most other Media just failed to mention at all.

Now one can argue that move to colossal media and news as infotainment are to blame. However, the Internet and You Tube and blogs and the desperate plight of  newpapers and magazines should have them looking for new news roles and informative process purpose. But instead, I see the Media acting more and more as Gatesmen or perhaps Attention Directors.

Take this story by David Brooks at the New York Times not so much about the substance behind the Barack Obama Change phenomena but rather lumping Obama into the news frenzy and Momentum thing – Brooks calls it the OCS-Obama Comedown  Syndrome. I actually read the article expecting David to offer some substantial pros and cons arguments … perhaps citing Obama’s campaigns well managed caucus and get out-the-vote organization. Or his superior campaign financing process as indicators of his ability to get started on day one. Or perhaps an in depth look at  Obama’s voting record relative to both the issues and others like Hillary Clinton and John McCain as an insight into his thinking and actual “voting performance” on key issues.

Well, not exactly.

Instead David was caught doing  a cross between a Maureen Dowd Diatribe and a Lurch on Liberalism. Yes there were a few facts about liberal voting but basically this was a foodstore  store Checkout Counter bit of  Attention Directing – look at this “Liberal” – and so what do you really think you are going to get from him. All presented in an Infotainment way. And hey, except for all the references in each article – that is also a good part of the business that Takethe5th.com is in.

Perhaps of more substance was the article on the nature of the  US proclivity towards between being Dumb and Dumber. That NYTimes article, like the one here, had the virtue of  at least breadth and lots of references if the reader so chooses to follow them. In any case, I will now take the 5th on what the role of the Media really should be. A temporary 5th, I assure you.

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